I've known Sarah Mirk for over a decade — we both worked at The Stranger but since she moved to Portland in 2008, I've happily transitioned from a coworker to a fan. Mirk is an advocate for everything great in the world: feminism, comics, sex-positivity, and zines. Late last year, Mirk embarked on a project: She decided to create one zine for every day in 2019. She's on track to finish the year a champion, and she's bringing some of her best zines to the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival at Seattle Center this weekend. We talked about why she has tabled at almost every Short Run, what she loves about zines, and what kind work she'll be bringing to the show.
Here are just some of the zines Sarah Mirk has made in the last month or so. (Photo by Sarah Mirk; used with permission.)
You come to Seattle every year for Short Run. What do you like about it?
It's just a really well-run festival, and everyone who's tabling is making really interesting work. It's a festival that is all independent creators, so there's no big companies — there's not a focus on mainstream super-commercial comics. It really feels like everyone who's there is passionate about what they're making and they're really invested in putting their work out into the world, rather than buying the new Captain America shirt.
And I think the way that the festival is run is really thoughtful. It feels really inclusive. It feels welcoming: they make sure that all the creators get lunch, and it's really affordable. A lot of festivals are kind of stressful because the table costs so much, and then the whole time you're worried about making your money back, but Short Run has kept their prices really low. So for somebody like me who's tabling, and I'm selling zines for $2 each, at the end of the day I can still come out ahead because the table doesn't cost that much at all. So I really appreciate that they keep it accessible and keep it inclusive and are less focused on making money and more focused on building community and being able to create a space for people to share their work.
That is maybe the best description of it I've heard. I agree.
Over the summer I went to San Diego Comic Con and it was just so gross and I hated every minute of it. It was really alienating, actually. I'm somebody who makes comics and loves to read comics and I didn't want to be there at all because people are more interested in just buying stuff — t-shirts and Marvel-branded hats and action figures and stuff. And I was like, 'who here is actually making time to draw or making time to write or making time for self-expression?' Which is what I see comics as being all about: a way to express yourself and put your thoughts and feelings out in the world. And a lot of comic shows are more about spending money than about, you know, sharing your voice and listening to other people's voices.
That seems like a maybe a pretty good segue into your zine-making project. Can you talk about that? I don't remember seeing the beginning of it, I just noticed you started doing it.
It started January 1, 2019. I actually started last year during October. You know about the Inktober challenge?
Okay. So for Inktober I thought, 'Oh, I'll make a zine every day in October and see if I can do that.' And I got to the end of the month and it was just super-fun. I had loved making them and people love reading them and I had many, many more ideas for zines and I thought, 'I know I have at least a hundred more ideas for zines. Maybe I can have 365 more ideas for zines.'
I just liked the idea of having an excuse to make myself draw for at least an hour every day. So that was part of the challenge.
I'm working on a longterm book project that's not going to come out until next year, and so I wanted to make something every day that I could share and put out into the world, to just have something that I'm making that's immediate, rather than having to wait a year for anyone to see my work.
Also it's something that's just for me, and it's just for fun. I'm really trying to get away from perfectionism and feeling like things have to be pretty, or things have to be perfect. It's about the process of making something every day and sharing it with the world — good or bad. And part of the point of it is to show people that you can do this too. You can make things and put them out in the world.
Do you have any favorites of your 200-something-something children?
Yeah. Let's see. Today is 261 — it's always surprising. I'm publishing them all on Instagram and I'm trying not to get attached to the Instagram addictive system of what people like and what they don't like. You know, I should just measure it in what I think the quality is versus how many likes it got.
Oh, you mean like you've been measuring hearts?
Yeah. And so the ones that I like are usually really weird and aren't always the most popular. I made this one that was imagining different public transit systems as pop culture figures. So, like, New York's MTA is Joyce Byers from Stranger Things, because it's like super stressed out and communicates only through blinking lights.
And Sound Transit in Seattle is Hermione, because it's cold and like, "Oh, we know best." And really it does get you there, but it's kind of an asshole. That was just an insane idea that I had and I made up a zine about it. I really thought that one was funny.
Other ones that are my favorites are ones that have had the biggest impact. I did a zine about like funding bail bonds for immigrants in detention, and I made it literally at two in the morning because I was reading the news and getting super upset and depressed and I was like, "What do I do?" And so I started reading about bail bonds, and then I made the zine about bail bonds and published it at 3 AM and then people all over the country asked me for copies of it. So I scanned it in and sent a PDF to people and I sent it to at least 50 people who have printed it out and distributed it themselves.
I pitched in $50, and I had dozens of people tell me that they read that and then pitched in themselves and it went viral on Twitter, and it seems like a lot of people pitched in. So, that one feels really cool. This idea I had at 3 AM led to dozens of people donating money to this cause and hopefully getting some people out of detention. That's pretty cool.
I am feeling hopeless, but at least we can pitch in get immigrant families the hell outta detention. pic.twitter.com/5oEgTSZ7kg— Sarah Mirk (@sarahmirk) June 24, 2019
So those are two of my favorites and they're kind of on the opposite ends of the spectrum of what I make. One is just a funny zany idea that I had. Another one is more like political action.
So what do you do with the zines when you finish them? I see some of them on Twitter.
Okay. Wow. That's a lot of paper.
And that's part of the reason: they're all on actual paper. They're not digital, and they're almost all black and white because it's cheaper to photocopy.
Are you going to do anything with these when you're done? Are you bringing some to Short Run? Can you talk about what you're bringing to the show?
Yeah, I'll be bringing a whole bunch of these to Short Run and selling them for $2 each. I'm also selling stickers that I've made and then copies of the graphic novel that I wrote that's called Open Earth — it's a queer sci-fi story in space. And then I'll have copies of The Nib, a comics magazine that I work for.
Do you think you're going to do anything with the whole project at the end, or is this just a thing to see if you can do it — kind of like a NaNoWriMo, only with a lot more work?
Yeah, I actually just got a grant from the Regional Art and Culture Council here in Portland to publish a book of the zines.
So I'm going to collect a hundred of the ones that I feel like are the strongest and put them into a book along with some direction on how you make your own zines. Each of these is just one piece of paper that's folded up, and that's something that I really love to show people. I do workshops on how to make them because it's so accessible and so cool. And the book will also be in the Creative Commons. So the content is made to be photocopied and shared and given away.
I'm sure some people wonder about how long it takes to do them. I know you said one of them was like an hour. Is that generally typical?
I aim to spend an hour making zines every day. Some of them wind up taking me more like an hour and a half. An easy one will be half an hour. And a more tricky one will be like two hours.
And then I have some more complicated ones that I've been putting off — ones where I've interviewed people and then take their quotes and make them into a zine. Those ones I'm putting off, because they take me a long time to go through the interview, write down the quotes, figure out which ones to use, condense it into basically eight sentences, and put it on the page. That takes a long time. I have a backlog of more important ones I've been putting off in favor of doing ones about Scrub Daddy, you know?
I enjoyed that one, too.
That one took me maybe half an hour. The process for it, people often wonder, is I just fold up a piece of paper so it becomes a little booklet, and then draw the images in pencil. And then I write in the text and then do inking, and then grays or colors on top of that. I don't just start drawing with a pen on paper. I always start with a pencil first.
People, for some reason, think I just draw them free hands without penciling. No, there's an eraser involved.
Do you have any advice for people attending Short Run for the first time?
I would say for people who are attending Short Run, it's not all about just buying comics. Of course if you can buy something to support somebody, that's great. But if you just stop by and say "hi, I love your work," that's really nice.
It's definitely weird when someone comes by the table and reads my stuff and then walks away without saying anything. I think some people do that because they feel bad because they're not going to buy anything. And you know, I kind of don't care if people buy anything as long as they're excited about the art and excited about comics. I'm happy to talk to them.